With just hours to the general elections, many Nigerians have packed their bags and baggage, heading for their villages; some for fear of violence, others to exercise their franchise.
For the brave ones who stayed, a good number of them have stuffed their homes with food and have almost emptied their bank accounts, in a tacit fear of a looming disaster.
Although the National Human Rights Commission (NHCR) in a report said that 58 persons had so far died from election violence in 22 states, observers agree that there has been reasonable calm in spite of the spate of hate speeches by political candidates.
Perhaps, the signing of the Abuja Peace Accord by 11 of the 14 presidential candidates on the need to refrain from inflammatory speeches and violence on Jan. 14 may have doused the tension.
However, observers maintain that the media campaigns, hate speeches, mudslinging and the activities of parties and their supporters have absolutely negated the basic intent of the pact.
For instance, in Bauchi State, some irate youths on Jan. 22 pelted President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign team with stones and water sachets.
Also, in Katsina on Jan. 20, the president’s convoy, along with that of Vice President Namadi Sambo and other PDP chieftains, were attacked in Katsina state.
These attacks are not, however, limited to one party alone, as one APC office was bombed in Rivers State on Jan. 16; a day after the police said that the campaign convoy of PDP governorship candidate Nyesom Wike was attacked by unidentified gunmen.
Even the wife of the APC presidential candidate, Aishat Buhari, was not spared of the ordeal, as she was attacked in Ilorin on March 16.
The attacks complemented the series of negative media campaigns and dirt-digging activities carried out by parties and groups to tarnish the image of particular candidates, all in the need to secure the goodwill of the electorate.
Observers note that these activities have negated the principles of the peace pact signed by the 11 presidential candidates, as they were fundamentally provocative, thereby provoking the fear of violence in the minds of the electorate.
The situation is also worsened by the threats issued by certain supporters of some political parties and candidates, warning of fire and brimstone should their candidates lose.
Political watchers stress that the development has become a source of worry to many citizens, particularly those who mean well for the country.
The President of the Senate, Sen. David Mark, has repeatedly expressed concern over provocative statements, heaping the blame on some mischievous and desperate politicians who rely on using religious and ethnic antics to divide the country.
However, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Hassan Kukah, who spoke at a National Peace Committee meeting, underscored the need for Nigerians to focus their attention on the brighter side of the whole situation.
His words: “My worry is that we are looking far too much at the negativities where we see only fear, doom and desperation. There is some kind of silver lining and I think these are some of the things we should be trying to focus on.”
The Joint National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI), in their pre-election assessment mission to Nigeria, shared similar sentiments.
“In spite of political polarisation, many Nigerians are hopeful that the political situation of the country will not degenerate as a result of the election, which is Nigeria’s most competitive election since the country’s return to democracy.
“There is a very significant pool of Nigerians, within and outside of political parties (those that some called the ‘third voice’), who see the larger interests of the country and vote for Nigeria
“This `moderate centre’ should be encouraged to speak up and help restrain more extreme positions in the lead-up to the elections, as well as in the post-election period,’’ the institutes said.
As a way of stemming the incidence of hate speech and inciting statements, the Minister of Police Affairs, Alhaji Jelili Adesiyan, has directed the Inspector General of Police to arrest and prosecute any politician who made any inciting statement.
The Department of State Services (DSS) has also issued a stern warning about the utterances of some politicians, stressing the need for the politicians to refrain from making inciting and unguarded statements which were capable of provoking crisis in the country.
Some groups and associations have called on politicians and political parties to promote peace by undertaking issue-based campaigns and electioneering.
For instance, the Civil Societies Organisations, under the auspices of “Situation Room”, and some notable Nollywood and music stars have joined forces to preach peace and not hate.
The 2face Foundation, sponsored by ace musician 2face Idibia, and Youngstars Foundation have launched “Vote Not Fight: Election No Be War’’ campaign and a nationwide youth get-out-the-vote (GOTV) campaign.
Other initiatives include “Enough is Enough; Register, Select, Vote and Protect (RSVP); Open Society Initiative for West Africa’s (OSIWA) Situation Room; the Dreams4Naija’’ campaigns, among others.
Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, Chairman of the NHRC, stressed that the election was between brothers and sisters and not a war.
“We want to be fair, but we cannot abdicate; we have no other country except Nigeria. I don’t want, on my watch as the chair of the NHRC, to see any Nigerian end up in The Hague (International Court of Justice),’’ he said.
However, there is a general consensus of opinion that the electorate and party supporters have exhibited a considerable great level of restraint and as such, Nigeria may witness one of its most peaceful elections after all.
Observers point at the recent meeting between the two leading contenders, President Jonathan of the PDP and Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of the APC, two days to the polls, as indicative of the peaceful elections.
Although it was a closed-door meeting, filters from the meeting suggest that the duo restated their commitment to the peace accord and possibly signed another pact.
The meeting, which was at the instance of a former Head of State, Gen. Abdusalami Abdusalami, and the National Peace Committee for the 2015 General Elections, was aimed at getting the commitment of the two candidates toward a peaceful election.
The cheery news is that the two major candidates have been urging their teeming supporters to promote peaceful elections, while jettisoning violence at all costs.
It is, therefore, the hope of all Nigerians that the elections will be peaceful, while all disagreements, if any, will be promptly resolved by the elections tribunals. (NANFeatures)